Owning a Car in Costa Rica

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Owning a Car in Costa Rica

Get coverage. Tico's may be the worst drivers on the PLANET.
Get coverage. Tico's may be the worst drivers on the PLANET.

Unfortunately, it’s just as expensive to own a car in Costa Rica as anywhere else. Gas is EXPENSIVE, and there are the costs for Insurance, Marchamo, Inspection, and Plates. Add maintenance, and although it’s MUCH cheaper here to actually maintain a car, it does add to the overall cost of owning one.


If you buy auto insurance here, you will pay out the nose for the privilege, but it is NOT mandatory. If you’re in an accident, there’s a high probability the other driver doesn’t have insurance. Obviously, coverage varies and also depends on the car YOU are driving. Ballpark figure- An average 4 year old car, with Liability, Collision, and Theft (no comprehensive), would cost approximately $1,750.00 per year. You can buy a liability policy here to protect yourself if you’re at fault for about $75.00 every six months. Many gringos opt to purchase the above liability policy and self insure. Just be ready to come out of pocket if you have an accident whether it’s your fault or not.


The marchamo is the annual circulation permit for all vehicles and sold through the Institution Nacional de Seguros (INS) – state monopoly on insurance. It’s similar to a yearly registration fee. This ‘permit’ must be renewed annually between November 1 and December 31. A car can be impounded after the 1st of January if it doesn’t have the current marchamo decal on the windshield. Marchamo cannot be paid if there are any outstanding parking or traffic tickets issued against the car during the year. This ‘permit’ can be paid at the MOPT offices, or at a number of private locations including all public and most private banks. The cost of the marchamo depends on the year, make and model of the car. For the above ‘average’ 4 year old car, you’re looking at approximately $250 to $300. Obviously, this is an estimate.

It should be noted that marchamo does accumulate if not paid, plus penalties. If you’re looking to buy a used car, check out the marchamo first.

Want to know how much Marchamo you must pay: http://portal.ins-cr.com/csoa/

You need a current inspection certificate to get your Marchamo.

Be forewarned: the government is looking to double the marchamo on all diesel vehicles.

Vehicle Technical Inspection

Each vehicle must have a decal on the windshield and an inspection certificate in the car that shows the vehicle inspection is current. Inspections are done at one of the many specially constructed locations around the country.

The month of the inspection is predicated on the last digit of the license plate. The vehicles are tested for exhaust emissions, brakes, lights, turn signals, windshield wipers and a list of other safely related features. Vehicles without a valid decal on the windshield and document in the car are subject to a fine if caught by the transit police. Initial inspections cost $20, but if you have to come back, it’s $5.00 each time, until everything is fixed accordingly.

Inspections are necessary each year on older vehicles, and after two years for new vehicles.

License Plates

A car will initially be issued with a paper license (placa), which must be put on the front windshield. These fade, so attach a photocopy to the windshield and carry the original in the glove compartment. There is an expiration date shown on the paper placa. You can be fined between $20.00 - $40.00 if caught driving beyond the expiration date.

Things tend to take awhile here, so to renew the paper placa if metal plates are still not available, the paper license must be taken to the public registry in Zapote and they will put a seal on it to extend it at no charge. The license cannot be renewed until the day it expires. There are services available to do this for you for a small fee. The public registry in Zapote sometimes has long lines, but there is another Registry is in the Plaza Mejor Mall in Rohmeiser.

When metal plates come in, take photocopies of the following documents to the central registry in Zapote.

Provisional placa (paper original)--The original will have to be turned in

They're good here, but we suggest shopping around.
They're good here, but we suggest shopping around.

Title deed to the car. (Titulo de propiedad)

Yellow registration card. (Tarjeta de circulación)

Resident ID Card (Cédula or carnet) or passport

Like the States, the dealer will get all this stuff for you- let him.

Car Repairs

Auto repair costs can be reasonable in Costa Rica. Mechanical, Body and Paint shops and small garages can all be found throughout the country. Watch out for gringo pricing and shop around, but you can find reasonable rates. If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to need a Tico friend to help, which can also be beneficial in regards to gringo pricing.

Good references are a good idea, but expect on paying about 10-15% of US prices…really.

Skip the car dealers, it’s just like the States- a total rip-off.